What Steve Jobs has Meant for Apple, for Silicon Valley, and for Global Tech
Steve jobs did not invent the portable stereo. Long before the iPod, there was ‘Pressman’ – a creation of Kozo Ohsone, then general manager of the Tape Recorder division of Sony. (‘Pressman’ became ‘Walkman in 1977.)
Jobs also didn’t invent the portable tablet – known these days among the Apple-scenti as the ‘iPad’. Microsoft beat him to that punch at least 6 years with the ‘Tablet’ – long before the first iPad rolled off an assembly line.
It might seem at times that Steve Jobs invented the personal computer way back when. But he didn’t, any more than Henry Ford invented the first automobile. By the time Jobs and his new Apple firm released the ‘Apple II’ in 1977, already a half-dozen micro-firms – remember the Tandy TRS-80? The Commodore PET? The Altair? – were already selling computer kits and continued to do so until IBM crushed nearly all the competition with the game-changing introduction of the “PC” in 1981.
That “GUI” – or “Graphic User Interface” made up of computer screen icons you manipulate with a mouse? Jobs didn’t invent either of those. Think, instead, the work of little-known researcher Douglas Engelbart at Xerox’s PARC facility in the early 1970’s.
We could continue. The mobile phone, the digital video editor, the online music store. Steve Jobs didn’t invent a single one of these things.
But what he did create was something much more rare – and he’s done it pretty much his entire professional life.
Steve Jobs makes things you really, really wanted. Now, with his departure as CEO of Apple, Inc., – his second – one wonders whether the shine on all of those iDevices may soon begin to fade.
End of an Era
“It it is the end of an era,” writes an admittedly tearful Om Malik on his blog at the news. Calling his greatest gift the insight into “disruptive technologies, Malik says Jobs almost uniquely created societal change while earning a profit:
“Today, we are living in a world that’s about taking short-term decisions: CEOs who pray to at the altar of the devil called quarterly earnings, companies that react to rivals, politicians who are only worried about the coming election cycle and leaders who are in for the near-term gain.
“And then there are Steve and Apple: a leader and a company not afraid to take the long view, patiently building the way to the future envisioned for the company. Not afraid to invent the future and to be wrong. And almost always willing to do one small thing — cannibalize itself. Under Steve, Apple was happy to see the iPhone kill the iPod and iPad kill the MacBook. He understands that you don’t walk into the future by looking back. If you do, you trip over yourself and break your nose.”
It has certainly been a long, and yes, convoluted path that Jobs has traveled professionally. With tech colleagues Steve Wozniak and financier Mark Markkula, he incorporated the Apple Computer Company early in 1977, and within four months they had their first product – the “Apple II”. It was different – color monitor, early floppy drives – and it was primitive (by today’s standards): it’s memory was a whopping 48 kilobites. Jobs & Wozniak’s company churned along – the little kid to IBM and Microsoft’s Big Brothers – but even then Jobs’ emphasis on design, utility and what some have called industrial beauty were on display.
As the blog Engaget details, Jobs time at Apple was not universally smooth, and eventually he resigned in the mid-80’s. For several years Apple floundered under confused product line, and poor market positioning, while Jobs was off pursuing new interests, among them the firms NeXT and Pixar.
“Apple’s fate hung in the balance,” said Microsoft founder Bill Gates at a 2007 forum with Steve Jobs. “Apple just wasn’t differentiating itself from higher- volume platforms….especially Windows.”
“Apple was in very serious trouble,” agrees Jobs.
“If the game was a zero-sum game, where for Apple to win that Microsoft had to lose, then Apple was going to lose. But a lot of people’s heads were still in that place… because Apple had invented a lot of this stuff and Microsoft was successsful and Apple wasn’t and there was a lot of jealosy, and this and that.
“But there were too many people at apple and in the apple ecosystem playing the game that for Apple to win, Microsoft has to lose. And it was clear that you didn’t have to play that game. Apple wasn’t going to beat Microsoft. Apple didn’t have to beat Microsoft. Apple had to remember who Apple was, because it had forgotten.”
In time, Jobs returned to Apple, Apple bought NeXT and the Walt Disney Company bought Pixar. And that supposed rival hatred between Apple and Microsoft? Both Gates and Jobs laugh, noting that from the earliest days of the Apple II, the two firms had worked together on a variety of projects…and would no doubt continue to do so in the future.
It was good timing. As the cheeky bloggers of Gizmodo point out (in their inimitable manner), Wall Street was losing faith in an Apple without a Jobs. Back in power, Jobs again returned to an emphasis on clean design, useful products, and ease of use. And it was Jobs who put Apple products in hipster’s back pockets.
You Have To Be Best
Author Robert Scoble has watched Jobs for decades, through his ups and downs, his failed product launches and those that take off like a rocket. Of the many ways Scoble describes Jobs, there was something else Scoble says Jobs had his eyes fixed upon: perfection.
“That actually explains why some people don’t like Steve Jobs. He is a dictator and is going to make sure you do things his way: i.e. to completion. When you pitch him an idea you better bring it in the box, and with the marketing you’ll use to sell it. You better have thought through everything. My brother-in-law worked at Apple and he has tons of stories about how Apple makes sure its suppliers give them the best equipment.”
And from the best equipment, Apple started again to make some of the best electronic devices yet. The iMac, the iPod, the iPhone and now the iPad – each of them revolutionary in some way, even if they weren’t the first of their kind on the block. You don’t have to be first, Jobs would say, you have to be best.
Microsoft continues to dominate globally at software that powers computers. Apple has come to dominate the small mobile devices that make it easy to consume media and connect to the Internet. Both firms are doing well, but who knows what the future holds?
This much, at least, can be said: the man replacing Steve Jobs is Tim Cook. Longtime Apple manager and designer, Cook has been Jobs figurative right-hand man for years – a near match to Jobs in terms of workaholism and perfection. Cook is also openly gay, making him one of the highest placed corporate leaders to be out and open about it.
Will He Be Missed?
Even from the early days, Jobs had a carefully crafted zen-like coolness – an unflappable leader who can see around the next mountain. His departure marks the end of an era, and will no doubt come with some personal sadness for some on the inside.
“Apple isn’t going to die now that Steve Jobs has resigned as CEO,” writes Farhad Manjoo of Slate. “It’s not even going to stumble.”
Manjoo, like others, cites Jobs fanatical quality control, his NSA-like secrecy, and surrounding himself with the best quality he can afford. But there’s something else Job’s Apple had:
“Apple has mastered this buzz-engineering technique in the last four years, when it introduced two new products—the iPhone and the iPad—that created two entirely new product categories. As a matter of marketing, neither of these devices was an obviously easy sell. A phone without buttons? A tablet computer that filled no clear need? But Apple worked the press, and barraged every corner of television and print with enough ads and product placements to make its new gizmos irresistible. By the time the iPhone and iPad hit the streets, folks were willing to plunk down hundreds of dollars, sight unseen. And this will keep happening after Jobs is gone.”
Now approaching an end to his first career, Jobs is the man who almost singularly saw how to take things that already existed and make them better, shinier, and just cooler. Then he figured out how to sell them with just the right amount of showman’s flash and hipster cool, transforming Apple’s electronic gizmos into Must-Have technology.
Technology is marching fast, and mobile devices appear to be the new new thing. But those mobiles will need software & apps (Microsoft) and function and design (Apple.) And there’s more competition out there now than ever. Whatever the future for these firms, they have already changed our lives.
And as for Mr. Job’s future? We can’t wait for whatever comes next…and wish him all the very best.